“Everything we think we know about the world is a model. Every word and every language is a model. All maps and statistics, books and databases, equations and computer programs are models. So are the ways I picture the world in my head – – my mental models. None of these is or ever will be the real world.” – Donella Meadows

I think that the last sentence of the paragraph above is something we all need to acknowledge more. We all hold our mental models so dear that we tend to forget that they are not the real world and that our models are always competing with other models out there, models that may or may not be more useful than our at any given moment.

The problem with us having a preconceived mental model is that we are able to fit everything that we experience into the model we hold most dearly. What we see, hear and sense can, and will, be hammered into the shape of what we already expect.

As an agile coach, I have the benefit of listening to a lot of people and often hearing many different sides of the same issue and it never ceases to amaze me how differently people can interpret the same event.

What is really sad is that as soon as we’ve characterized a person we tend to interpret everything that person does according to our selected stereotype. This reinforces our model of choice and enables us to keep drawing the same [erroneous] conclusions at an ever increasing speed.

I wish we could all learn to challenge our assumptions and our mental models more often and that we could learn to apply a tool like the Iroquois “Rule of Six” in our interactions with other people.

“The Rule of Six [for the right side of the brain] says that: For every perceivable phenomena devise at least six explanations that indeed explain the phenomena. There are probably sixty, but if you devise six, this will sensitize you to the complexity of Universe, the variability of perception. It will prevent you from fixing on the first plausible explanation as The Truth.” – Paula Underwood

If we could do this before judging a person or an event, we would realize how many good people we are surrounded by. It would also make ourselves better persons, more worthy of the benefit of a doubt from those who judge us.

Yesterday I read Lynn McKee‘s excellent article on “Inspire & Motivate Your Teams Through Learning” and remembered my old device; 15 minutes a day. No, this is not a workout program where you build your abs or pecs, it’s about spending 15 deliberate minutes on exercising your brain.

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to get people around me to spend time and energy on learning. But as Jerry Weinberg wrote on the wisdom of his father, Harry:
“Lots of things can run out – water, sugar, meat, gasoline, bread, even air. But there’s one thing that will never run out. … Reasons, he said. People will never run out of reasons.”

It turns out that there are about a million reasons for not investing in learning.
“Sounds great but I don’t have the time right now.”
“Oh I’d love to, but I don’t have the money.”
“My client won’t let me take a week off.”
“We just can’t afford sending people on conferences.”
“My boss won’t let me install anything on my computer.”

Then there are companies that have well intentioned policies like “every employee has to spend five working days per year taking a course”, or they arrange company-wide courses for everyone to attend. But these policies tend to fail as well, because … people have reasons.
“I can’t go this month because my project needs me.”
“Since we’re in a recession, we really need to cut back on training.”

So, maybe we should just give in to the reasons then? You really can’t reason with the reasons, can you?
Absolutely no! Maybe I’m naive about this but I want people to learn and to grow. However, I do think that we need to listen and understand that there is a reason for the reasons. Most traditional learning does not fit into the systems we work in today. Many companies and employees won’t or can’t set aside the time, energy and/or money necessary for courses, certifications and conferences. We could keep banging our heads trying to change these systems, or we could try to find alternative ways of learning.

Luckily, today there are many new ways to learn and get information (I recommend that you look at the starred options in Lynn’s article referenced above). Most of the time we don’t need classes, courses and certifications because we have a plethora of opportunities for constant microlearning. If we just set aside 15 minutes each day for deliberate learning; it could be reading a blog post, installing a new tool, reading a chapter in a book, discussing a topic on a forum, asking a colleague about what she’s working on, listening to a webcast, attending a webinar or just reading some tweets.

These are all things that can be done on the subway on our way to or from work. We can spend a coffee break doing them. We can grab a couple of colleagues during lunch break to sit down together. If the topic is even remotely connected to what we’re working on, I’m pretty sure that most clients, managers and employers don’t mind if we take 15 minutes off from what we’re doing right now to see if there is another better way of doing the same thing.

If we take 15 minutes a day to learn something new, it adds up to over a week of learning per year, without us having to miss a single day of work. I also bet that pretty much every single instance of 15 minute learning will be more relevant than having spent that week at a course since these instances can be adapted to what we’re doing right now and what we need to know this very minute.

Do you have room for 15 minutes of learning each day?

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